U.S. Negotiator ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ Griner Will Be Released By Year’s End

Former Gov. and diplomat Bill Richardson expressed confidence Sunday that American basketball star Britney Griner will be released from Russian custody by the end of the year.

In an interview with CNN, Richardson said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the release of both Griner and Paul Whelan, a US citizen held in a Russian prison since 2018 on espionage charges.

“I think so. Now I hate making predictions, but yes.” Richardson said Two Americans were asked if they would be released by the end of 2022.

A former Governor of New Mexico and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Richardson has extensive experience negotiating on behalf of families of hostages and detainees.

“I know[the family]is very emotional and this is a very emotional time. All I can say is that the Biden administration is working hard.” Richardson said on CNN Sunday“So do I. We coordinate, but we don’t always agree on all tactical decisions. But I’m not going to interfere in their process. I am giving you my assessment after visiting Russia twice in .

Griner, the star of WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, has been in a Russian prison since February after being arrested at a Moscow airport on drug charges (authorities found cannabis oil in her luggage).

In August, Griner was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court.

She plans to appeal the conviction, with a hearing set for October 25.

The US considers both Griner and Whelan “unjustly detained.” The Biden administration is negotiating a prisoner exchange with Moscow, and the US will release Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving his 25-year prison sentence in the US, in exchange for the release of Griner and Whelan. is offering

Russia reportedly rejected the offer.

On Sunday, Richardson suggested Russia could agree to a deal.

“Russian officials I met and have known for many years felt ready to speak.” Richardson said on CNN“I got a good feeling from the Russians – the vibes – but I’m not a government official.”

“I am not part of the government, the government channel. I have always made it clear. And I think the administration has done a good job of that.” Richardson added.

President Joe Biden met with both the Griner and Whelan families last month.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at the time: “He’s making sure that Britney and Paul get home safely, that they’re always in the back of their minds and that his team is working on this every day. I wanted to let them know.

Mr. Biden has lashed out at Russia after Mr. Griner was convicted in August.

“Today, American citizen Britney Griner received a prison sentence that serves as another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is unlawfully detaining Britney,” Biden said in a statement at the time. Stated.

“It is unacceptable. I urge Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates.”

“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue all means to bring Britney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” he added.

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